Common App Essay Prompts 2021-22

The Common Application released the essay prompts for the 2021-22 application cycle. This application will open in summer 2021 for students applying to enter college in Fall 2022. Considering the prompts now allows time for thinking about what you might include to best convey to an admissions reader why you are a strong applicant and an essential member of an incoming class.

Most of the essay prompts will remain the same, but Common App did replace a prompt about dealing with a problem that had not been widely used. The new prompt centers around gratitude and kindness.

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

I like this new option, because I sometimes see students who feel pressured to come up with a story of overcoming challenge. In some cases, this feels artificial, because they don’t feel that they have really faced significant life challenges yet. In other cases, writing about challenges becomes just that, a recounting of events and stumbling blocks rather than a clear presentation of the student’s characteristics and strengths.

There is no guideline in the new prompt for how big an event should be to be worthy of writing about. It might have been a small favor that had a big effect. Or it might be something that changed the direction of your life. The focus of the essay should be on your attributes and what you will bring as a college student rather than on a detailed account of what you are grateful for.

This is really advice for using any of the prompts. Keep the emphasis on you rather than on describing events or circumstances around you. What makes you interesting or unique? How have you changed or grown as a result of your life experience so far? What direction are you pointed towards now? Why will admitting you add to the campus community?

This is the complete list of Common Application prompts for 2021-22:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Don’t obsess over the prompts as anything more than just that – questions designed to help prompt you towards deeper thinking and writing in a way that gives admissions readers a better understanding of who you are as a person than they would get from just looking at grades and test scores. Your essays are your opportunity to control content and delivery. It is one of the few parts of the application you exert this much control over.

If the first six prompts don’t generate ideas, remember that Prompt 7 gives you the freedom to choose your own adventure. This is one reason I start my clients with pre-writing exercises that help them identify what they are trying to communicate – what their story is and what examples help convey it.

Essay coaching is included in each of my comprehensive packages. I am also working on a set of workshops on applications and essays that can be paired with a four-hour block of individual essay coaching as an a la carte option. Follow the Admissions Decrypted Facebook page to get announcements about this project and other college admissions updates.

If this is something you are interested in, let me know lisa@admissionsdecrypted.com

3 Comments on “Common App Essay Prompts 2021-22

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